National Memorial Service for Kim Jong Il Underway in Pyongyang

Posted December 28th, 2011 at 11:00 pm (UTC-5)
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Tens of thousands of people packed a central square in Pyongyang on Thursday for a national memorial service for the late North Korean leader Kim Jong Il.

State television showed a massive sea of tightly packed soldiers that filled Kim Il Sung square as the deceased leader's heir apparent and youngest son, Kim Jong Un, looked on with his head bowed.

Ceremonial head of state Kim Yong Nam told the crowd that Kim Jong Un inherits his father's “ideology, character and revolutionary” cause.

The entire nation, which has been in an official state of mourning since Kim Jong Il's death was announced, will observe three minutes of silence at noon local time. The memorial is part of the second day of funeral ceremonies for Mr. Kim, who died of a heart attack on December 17.

On Wednesday, observers worldwide watched television images of Mr. Kim's funeral procession for clues of who holds the real power after his death.

Kim Jong Un clearly had a central role in the ceremony. He walked alongside a black limousine carrying his father's hearse through central Pyongyang, and was at the center of the group attending the red flag-draped coffin at the square of the Kumsusan Memorial Palace.

Since Kim Jong Il's death, North Korean state-run media have called Kim Jong Un the “great successor” and the supreme leader of the ruling Worker's Party, the state and the army, even though he has not been appointed officially to any of those positions.

Walking behind him during the funeral procession were Mr. Kim's influential uncle Jang Song Thaek, senior party officials Kim Ki Nam and Choe Thae Bok, military chief Ri Yong Ho, armed forces minister Kim Yong Chun and senior military officer Kim Jong Gak. Their presence suggests that they will have a role in North Korea's leadership.

Thousands of weeping and wailing North Koreans lined the snow-covered procession route.

Foreign governments are watching events in Pyongyang closely because of concerns about the young Mr. Kim's rise in a country with a nuclear program, a large army and a history of deep animosity toward its neighbors.

A spokesman for the U.S. State Department, Mark Toner, said at a press briefing Wednesday that the funeral procession was obviously an emotional moment for North Koreans. In terms of North Korea's future leadership, he said Pyongyang has made some statements to clarify it, but that “we'll wait and see” what else emerges in the coming days and weeks. He said there is little insight into the country that has a “pretty opaque” political system.